The foreign ministers of Australia, the United States, Great Britain and Canada expressed “serious concern” over the arrest of 55 pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong last week,in a joint statement released on Sunday.
The arrests were made for subversion under Hong Kong’s controversial National Security Law that was passed in June 2020.
Those arrested were linked to an unofficial primary organized by pro-democracy parties ahead of local legislative elections.
Australia, US, UK, Canada criticize National Security Law
The countries also criticized the National Security Law as: “a clear breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and undermines the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework.”
Hong Kong passed from British to Chinese governance in 1997 under the framework. It ensures the semi-autonomous territory and its residents retain political freedoms and a market economy for at least 50 years.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration, registered in 1985 with the UN, is the legally-binding treaty enshrining this.
The new law “has curtailed the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong,” said Sunday’s joint statement.
It is “being used to eliminate dissent and opposing political views,” the joint statement continued.
The four countries called on Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to “respect the legally guaranteed rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”
They also said the Legislative Council elections - due later this year - should be postponed until candidates with varying political opinions are included.
Hong Kong responds
“We are appalled by remarks made by some overseas government officials that seemed to suggest that people with certain political beliefs should be immune to legal sanctions,” the Hong Kong government said in response to the statement by the foreign ministers.
The Chinese and Hong Kong governments argue the National Security Law is needed to restore order in the city.
It was rocked by months of often violent anti-government protests in 2019 by people demanding greater democracy.
National Security Law used to block website
The joint statement was released as HKChronicles - a website that publishes content mainly related to anti-government protests in 2019 - said users’ access had been blocked by the city’s internet service providers (ISPs).
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, citing unnamed sources, said on Sunday that Hong Kong police had invoked the city’s national security law for the first time to block the site.
What has happened to the arrested activists?
The 55 arrested activists have not been charged. All but three have been released on bail pending further investigation.
Any convictions could disqualify them from running for office.